Section: archive

A tweet too far?

By David McCabe

The photo has two subjects: a young man and woman. He’s wearing green shorts and a button-down shirt; she’s in shorts and a white tank-top. The two are kissing. Her arm is slung around his neck and his hand is moving down her back. It has the blurry styling and mediocre lighting of a photo taken with a smartphone.

But even if it was taken with a phone, it certainly didn’t stay there. In early October, the picture was posted to a publicly accessible Twitter account. The only commentary attached read: “#FirstTweet.” The wording promised more to come. And more did.

The account ラ which used the handle “@KenyonHookups” ラ would post four other photos of a similar nature between Oct. 6 and last week, when it unceremoniously shut down. It would amass over 100 followers and supportive tweets from several Kenyon students. Now, Kenyon administrators are looking into whether the account violated the College’s sexual misconduct policy.

But for much of the time the account existed, College administrators tasked with preventing sexual misconduct had no knowledge of the account’s existence. Administrators initiated an investigation just last week ラ a day before the account disappeared ラ taking with it some of the evidence that may have helped them find the account’s operators.

What is left in the digital wake of KenyonHookups is a picture of how difficult it can be to police potential violations of student conduct policy on the Web, even in an isolated community like Kenyon’s. It also raises tough questions about student privacy in an age of increasing personal and digital transparency.

Like many venues on the Internet, the page was operated anonymously. In absence of hard evidence, administrators have struggled to find a perpetrator.

“I think the simplest way to put it is we do what we can with what we have. And in this case, what we have is not very much,” Dean of Students Hank Toutain said. “We’ve got, as far as I can tell, something that appears and then disappears.”

Administrators say they have also grappled with keeping up with rapid changes in technology that may be used to violate College policy.

“I think learning about new systems, learning about how certain technologies put an additional burden on people who are conducting investigations ラ whether that’s Campus Safety folks, or people like [Director of the Office of Student Rights and Responsibilites] Sam Hughes and others ラ I think it simply means we’re working in somewhat different territory,” Toutain, who does not use Twitter and uses Facebook infrequently, said. “And we have to learn how to negotiate our way around that new territory.”

College administrators are working with the theory that the account’s posts may have violated a little-used clause of Kenyon’s sexual misconduct policy that covers “sexual exploitation.” The clause covers a range of activity ラ including recording sexual activity without the consent of the participants. So far, no one has come forward to make a complaint against the as-yet unidentified operators of the account, but the College maintains the right to investigate the account because it says such due diligence is required under recent guidance issued by the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights.

That guidance clarifies the obligation institutions of higher learning have under Title IX, the provision passed by Congress in 1972 that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in an educational environment. Institutions are now more clearly obligated to create an environment free of fear of sexual harrassment and assault under the provision.

“Arguably it is a violation of Title IX, because it’s something that is sexual in nature and can certainly be humiliating for the people who are in it,” Mariam El-Shamaa, the College’s Title IX Coordinator, said. “It can, at the very least, make them uncomfortable, make them feel violated, but at the most it can be just downright embarrassing. And the question then becomes what do we do about that.”

The account first tweeted on Oct. 6, according to screenshots captured by the Collegian, though it may have been created earlier. Three photos were posted that day, with no information attached indicating where they had been taken or who their subjects were.

From there, the account’s operators tweeted sporadically ラ requesting that followers submit their own photos for use in the feed through a Gmail address.

“Also,” the account tweeted, “#ReadingDays are fast approaching. Aka get your cameras our [sic] cause there’s bound to be plenty of sloppy, public #KenyonHookups.”

The account would later post two more photos, including one taken at the Gambier Grill.

As the account gained followers, it also gained accolades. “Finding out @KenyonHookUps is a thing #MadeMyDay,” one user posted.

The account had 112 followers by last Monday. That morning, Toutain says he learned of the account from another employee in the Student Affairs Division, who had been in contact with a student who was concerned about the tweets. The next day, the account had been taken down and the photos were no longer accessible. At a meeting on Tuesday, administrators discussed their response.

Some students have reacted with alarm to the account, asserting that it is a violation of their privacy to have photos of their intimate moments taken and posted to the Internet.

“I wouldn’t put up pictures like that of myself on my own, so I don’t want other people putting those up of me either,” Kristin McLerran ’15 said.

Others, though, countered students shouldn’t expect privacy on a dance floor, even if they were kissing someone.

“I do understand that for some people it is a big deal, but if you think it is a big deal maybe you shouldn’t be making out on the dance floor in the first place,” Chris Stevens ’17 said.

With no one coming forward to file a formal complaint against the page and limited evidence as to its operators, administrators and student counselors say they may focus on educating individuals on the way behavior that violates the College’s conduct code can move online ラ while continuing the investigation into the account.

“No, we can’t control what someone posts on Twitter or what someone posts on Facebook, but we can set expectations for what you do,” El-Shamaa said, noting the rules in the Student Handbook cover Kenyon students on and off campus.

“I think it will be something, not necessarily that we have to confront in the near future, but by the simple fact that hazing is moving online, people aren’t writing graffiti on the bathroom stall anymore,” Charlie Collison ’15, a Co-Facilitator of the Sexual Misconduct Advisors, said. “If these things are going to happen on campus, they’re most definitely going to happen online.”

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